The Golden Age of Baseball Cards™

...its influence on society and the game

 

Vintage Baseball Card Blog

1959 Fleer Ted Williams:  The Teddy Ballgame Baseball Card Set

April 1, 2008

by William Szczepanek

It’s unusual to find a baseball card set honoring a player’s life while the player is still playing. Fleer did just that by signing Ted Williams away from #1 Topps in 1959 just two years after Williams electrified baseball again by hitting .388 at the age of 39. He would play another year before retiring, and would hit .316, with 29 home runs and a .645 slugging average — a career year for most players.

1959 Fleer Ted WilliamsWilliams led the league in many categories over his career. One that rarely gets attention is the number of nicknames he was known by over the years. Born Theodore Samual Williams and named after Teddy Roosevelt, he later was immediately recognized by the following appellations: The Kid, the Splendid Splinter, The Thumper and Teddy Ballgame.

I reflect on this 1959 Fleer set now because I can’t think of a player today that would warrant having a complete set depicting their life. Most players’ lives outside of their baseball career don’t amount to much. But, as most people know Williams had a decorated military career that robbed him of 5 years of playing in the majors while still in his prime. He was a sport fisherman with his own television show and was inducted into the Sport Fisherman Hall of Fame.

While his legendary .406 batting average in 1941 was overshadowed by DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, it is a fairly unknown fact that Williams holds the record for most consecutive games reaching base, 84 in 1949, and that he reached base in 16 consecutive appearances in 1957.

My fascination with this set in 1959 was somewhat different than most kids. I did not have friends who had an interest in these cards, but I liked to read about players and had books on playing baseball by people like Bob Feller. The cards included aspects of Williams’ early life, his military career, his fishing achievements, his baseball achievements and tips on how to hit. It was the tips that attracted me to the cards. At the time the cards dealing with his military exploits as a Marine Corps pilot did not much interest me, though now they add a lot to the story of his life and his bravery as a man.

 

While his brashness irritated many people, including the Boston press, I would listen to his interviews and get the impression that I was listening to the expert. While Mickey Mantle, in his Oklahoma drawl and “Aw shucks!” attitude, made him very likable, Williams didn’t care whether you liked him or not. He just spoke his mind. When the greatest hitter in baseball gives you detailed instruction on how to hold the bat, swing the bat and most importantly, how to think, you tend to listen intently. Then you watch him hit and you marvel at his skills. I believe his natural talent was probably more important than his study of hitting, but the combination made him the self-proclaimed best.

"A man has to have goals - for a day, for a lifetime - and that was mine, to have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"

1958 Topps Ted Williams All StarAutographedA set of cards depicting the life of Ted Williams was very meaningful to me. I read the cards like a book. To my surprise I was able to buy a few packs of cards per week and without much effort or expense I had accumulated all but one card of the set of 80 cards. I remember asking friends in my neighborhood to let me know if they ever saw someone with this card #68. I had no idea what was on the card, so I couldn’t tell anyone what I was missing. #68 was a picture of Ted Williams and GM, Bucky Harris. Harris was still under contract with Topps, and Fleer was requested to stop production of the card. Collectors had to request the card from Fleer to complete their sets, a fact that was beyond the scope of abilities of this 11 year old collector. Completing sets back then wasn’t as important as it is now because it was nearly impossible to do such a thing on an allowance of 25 cents a week, or five packs of cards. Overall, this set was not popular enough for Fleer to make significant inroads in the baseball card market against Topps, but it was a treasure to me.

After hearing all the stories of Williams’ temper and aloofness I was very hesitant upon meeting him to ask him to autograph the baseball card shown here. He was very friendly, signed the card and shook hands. He looked much taller than 6’ 3”. His hands looked enormous and his arm muscles were much larger than I expected from the skinny guy named the Splendid Splinter. He was larger than life.

Harry Ellsworth – Fleer Ted Williams Promotional Items

Harry Ellsworth, known as “Candy Man”, worked as an advertising executive for companies such as Nabisco, Nestle, Tootsie Roll and Fleer Gum, among others.  He was responsible for the TV cartoon ad where an owl is asked” Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?”  Mr. Ellsworth passed away in May of 2008.
 
In 1959 he worked on two trading card projects for Fleer that affected kids in a large way.  One of those was the Three Stooges card set that appeared in limited production.  The Stooges were a big hit with kids in the fifties where their television shows were seen after school by millions. The other is the above mentioned Ted Williams card set.
 
Ted Williams Fleer Promotion 1959

 

Ted Williams 1959 Fleer back

The pictures shown here represent a promotional item that Mr. Ellsworth used at trade shows and conventions.  The card is the size of three regular cards side by side with three sample card pictures from the series.  The 1st (#65) is a four picture sequence of
Ted’s swing with a date under it of "August 30, 1958". The 2nd (#50) is Ted holding a bat ready to swing with the title "March 1954- Spring injury".  The 3rd (#73) is a three frame picture of Ted swinging a bat which says "Ted's hitting fundamentals #3"
 
On the back at the top in big letters "A Great New Trading Card Series!", "Baseball's Greatest" Ted Williams. "The life story of Ted Williams, the nation's #1 ball player....Told in exciting full color pictures. Every kid in your area will be saving for a full set of 80 cards. Stock up.... Supplies are limited... and order Dubble Bubble, Too!" At the bottom is the back of the Triple Crown card #33.

While the card has some obvious imperfections it appears to be quite rare.  If there is any interest in this card, or if anyone would have any further information regarding the quantities and value, please get back to me and I will pass the word along.

Comments

1959 Fleer Ted Williams Checklist

1. The Early Years
2. Ted's Idol - Babe Ruth
3. Practice Makes Perfect
4. 1934 - Ted Learns the Fine Points
5. Ted's Fame Spreads - 1935-36
6. Ted Turns Professional
7. 1936 - From Mound to Plate
8. 1937 - First Full Season
9. 1937 - First Step to Majors
10. 1938 - Gunning as a Pastime
11. 1938 - First Spring Training
12. 1939 - Burning Up Minors
13. 1939 - Ted Shows He Will Stay
14. Outstanding Rookie of 1939
15. 1940 - Licks Sophomore Jinx
16. 1941 - Williams' Greatest Year
17. 1941 - How Ted Hit .400
18. 1941 - All Star Hero
19. 1942 - Ted Wins Triple Crown
20. 1942 - On to Naval Training
21. 1943 - Honors for Williams
22. 1944 - Ted Solos
23. 1944 - Williams Wins His Wings
24. 1945 - Sharpshooter
25. 1945 - Ted Discharged
26. 1946 - Off to Flying Start
27. July 9, 1946 - One Man Show
28. July 14, 1946 - The Williams Shift
29. July 21, 1946 - Ted Hits For the Cycle
30. 1946 - Beating the Williams Shift
31. Oct. 1946 - Sox Lose the Series
32. 1946 - Most Valuable Player
33. 1947 - Another Triple Crown for Ted
34. 1947 - Ted Sets Runs Scored Record
35. 1948 - Sox Miss Pennant
36. 1948 - Banner Year for Ted
37. 1949 - Sox Miss Out Again
38. 1949 - Power Rampage
39. 1950 - Great Start
40. July 11, 1950 - Ted Crashes into Wall
41. 1950 - Ted Recovers
42. 1951 - Williams Slowed By Injury
43. 1951 - Leads Outfielders in Double Plays
44. 1952 - Back to Marines
45. 1952 - Farewell to Baseball?
46. 1952 - Ready for Combat
47. 1953 - Ted Crash Lands Jet
48. July 14, 1953 - Ted Returns
49. 1953 - Smash Return
50. March 1954 - Spring Injury
51. May 16, 1954 - Ted is Patched Up
52. 1954 - Ted's Comeback
53. 1954 - Ted's Comeback is a Success
54. Dec. 1954 - Ted Hooks a Big One
55. 1955 - Ted Decides Retirement is "No Go"
56. 1955 - 2,000th Major League Hit
57. 1956 - Ted Reaches 400th Homer
58. 1957 - Ted Williams Hits .388
59. 1957 - Hot September for Ted
60. 1957 - More Records for Ted
61. 1957 - Outfielder Ted
62. 1958 - Sixth Batting Title for Ted
63. Ted's All-Star Record
64. 1958 - Daughter and Famous Daddy
65. August 30, 1958
66. 1958 - Powerhouse
67. Two Famous Fishermen
68. Jan. 23, 1959 - Ted Signs for 1959
69. A Future Ted Williams?
70. Ted Williams and Jim Thorpe
71. Hitting Fundamentals #1
72. Hitting Fundamentals #2
73. Hitting Fundamentals #3
74. Here's How!
75. Williams' Value to Red Sox
76. Ted's Remarkable "On Base" Record
77. Ted Relaxes
78. Honors for Williams
79. Where Ted Stands
80. Ted's Goals for 1959

Comments

Back to the 2008 Blog Archive

Back to Main Blog Page